Christensen’ National Skills Bill Passes, will help prepare our labour market

Mr George Christensen (Dawson): It’s my pleasure to speak to the National Skills Commissioner Bill 2020. This legislation, these laws, we are about to pass here couldn’t be more timely as we all seek to address the critical challenge that will come about, economically, in this country from the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic. The National Skills Commissioner office to be established will help prepare our labour market, our workers, in this country for recovery. They will be establishing a robust, new, fact-based system that will strengthen our education and training networks.

The varied roles of this commission demonstrate a huge potential for it to quickly become a vital hub in supporting and enhancing the operation and analysis of the workforce we need, which is important for those people entering the workforce—to know where the gaps are, where to get training. Australia’s economic recovery will be very reliant on its workers, working Australians, being skilled, resilient and adaptable. The skills needed for the new economy, for the new Australian society, are likely to evolve, and jobs that will be made as we come out of the crisis may not be the same as the ones that perhaps have been lost.

The government identified, in the recently announced JobMaker plan, that skills and training are a priority. We have outlined a reform agenda that will look at making vocational education and training actually work for Australians once again. It will do so by providing a trusted system of training that can deliver workers with high- quality and relevant skills and supports. It’ll include rapid upskilling. It’ll include reskilling in growth areas. It’ll ensure that a new generation of Australian workers can participate in the economic success of this nation and guarantee the essentials that our nation relies upon.

The commission will do market analysis. It will look for areas in which we are short of workers in Australia, where skills are needed, where training is needed. That’s important, because that information will go from this commission to the National Careers Institute. It will provide young Australians, those who are entering our workforce, with key information—accurate and up to date—on where the jobs are and what skills and qualifications they need to go out and get hold of in order to obtain those jobs of the future.

It will help show that trades and skilled jobs are ones to aspire to as the first and best option, not to be looked down upon as the second-best option, which is a pervasive view that really does need to be knocked completely and utterly on the head. The National Skills Commissioner, established with this legislation, will also have the task of driving down and getting rid of the costs involved in our vocational education training system, and developing and maintaining a set of efficient prices, the best and lowest cost prices on courses that are on offer to Australian workers and budding workers. That will improve transparency, consistency and accessibility and, most importantly, affordability—affordability for workers and affordability for students wanting to get into the workforce.

Currently, around the nation, if you have a look at vocational education and training prices, and the subsidies on offer for vocational education and training, you see this completely patchwork system. It is terrible. We’ve got a difference of nearly $12,000 in subsidies between Western Australia and the eastern seaboard of Queensland for students that are studying a Diploma of Nursing. It’s just absolutely not clear why there is such a differential or why there is such a big difference.

If you were a budding building designer and you wanted to study a Diploma of Building Design, there’s actually a difference of nearly $7,000 between the subsidies available for students studying at TAFE NSW and TAFE Queensland. And, actually, the Queenslander faces the higher cost. It’s very sad, as a Queenslander, to know that the student who wants to go into that job is going to pay more. And it’s not just a little bit more. In New South Wales, a student going into a Diploma of Building Design would pay only $3,600, while in Queensland they would face a cost of $10,455. It’s absolutely ridiculous that we would have two different costs, and I’ve got to say it’s very disheartening to hear that the cost burden on Queenslanders is so much more.

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We can look into those that are wanting into blinds, awnings and security screens. This is a growth industry, particularly as the new HomeBuilder program rolls out. We’ve got the Certificate III in Blinds, Awnings, Security Screens and Grilles, where they receive a subsidy of only $3,726 in Queensland but a subsidy of $9,630 in New South Wales. There is a complete and utter differential there, with the Queenslander losing out in comparison to what the New South Wales student or apprentice receives. It is completely and utterly crazy that we have a system where there is a difference of that magnitude. So that’s going to be looked at and hopefully fixed up so that we have one single system, with the lowest cost possible for everyone in the nation, including those in Queensland.

One of the big things that this commission is going to do is look at outcomes. We come up with all these different schemes from this place called Canberra. They seem great on paper, but, no matter what it is, the one thing that nearly always goes missing is outcomes—to work out whether these programs are actually working and whether they’re doing the job that we set them out to do. That’s why I’m really very grateful that this part of the puzzle is in here. The commissioner is going to do an analysis of the effectiveness of the VET system and advise on what the return on investment actually is for the government—whether we are getting people into jobs that are needed or whether we just have people going on training merry-go-rounds.

This is going to mean understanding vocational education student outcomes. It’s going to mean understanding whether that apprentice or student actually got a job and what they’re now earning as part of that job, as well as the public benefits of the stronger workforce, particularly in areas that are needed, like health care, aged care and disability care. It’s going to enable governments, once we have this data, to actually look towards where we can target investment—direct investment towards high-quality courses that give students, apprentices and budding jobseekers the best chance of scoring a job in the future and strengthening our nation, strengthening our society and strengthening our economy.

That is all extremely welcome, but I have to say it’s on the back of some very good things that have happened in concert with this pandemic. The $1.3 billion program, the initiative supporting apprentices and trainees, has been most welcome. That support is being provided to small businesses right now to retain their apprentices through a 50 per cent wage subsidy, and that’s going to continue up to 30 September. As at 5 June—so, very recent data —a total of 55,400 apprentices and trainees and 31,500 employers have been assisted through the Supporting Apprentices and Trainees wage subsidy. That’s about $252 million in payments, but it has kept those young apprentices working. It has kept them in their apprenticeship and not just kicked out onto the street because of this pandemic and the economic challenge that has presented many, many businesses. That is something that this government has done and something that should be welcomed by just about everyone in the chamber.

We are the government that actually introduced the Australian apprentice wage subsidy. That created 3,200 new apprentices in rural and regional Australia, even though those on the opposite side called it a ‘political fiasco’. Can I say, just to pre-empt what I know is coming, there will be criticism that regional Australia isn’t mentioned in the bill. Well, the fact is that skills go all around the nation, including in regional Australia, and this national skills commissioner is going to be looking right around the nation, particularly in regions, where we need skills. We are already doing that with programs like the Australian apprentice wage subsidy. I could refer locally to where the commissioner will be able to build upon some of the good work happening.

In Mackay, we have young Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander Australians attending a local business called Global Product Search that has been funded by the Morrison Liberal-National government to the tune of $1.4 million to provide direct training in truck driving for the resources sector. This is a high-paying job and it is one that is very much-needed throughout Central and North Queensland. About 150 people are going through a holistic program that is not just simply learning how to drive a truck; it is learning how to manage the big bucks that you get into if you have never been on them before. It is to learn all of the skills that are needed— interpersonal skills and other skills—in the workplace. For Global Product Search manager Warren McGraw, and the Indigenous people who are rolling out that program, it is to be applauded that we have local businesses upskilling people like this in a direct way, in a holistic way.

In the Whitsundays, we are going to have a big problem with the loss of a lot of staff who have just gone because of the closure in tourism, which is going to continue on for some time. A lot of those people engaged in that industry are pretty much itinerate workers anyway, but we will still need to see a great deal of upskilling after we come out of this pandemic. It has been a pleasure to have led the charge to invest $2.5 million in a new Whitsunday maritime training centre in Airlie Beach that is going to be operating and running quite a number of courses. It is going to be doing more than it has done before. It has got a very small training room at the moment

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in the sailing club but this investment is going to allow a full-blown college that will provide training for more skippers, more shipping engineers, more crew to work on all of the boats and more tour operator crew and that is going to be a big benefit for local tourism businesses. This will mean more job opportunities in the Whitsundays. There will be 100 jobs created during construction.

In 2019, at a small level, this training college had about 274 enrolments. This college is looking at getting close to 400 enrolments when it actually opens. This is the work that is being done on the ground in places like Airlie Beach, an ideal location for maritime training.

During normal circumstances there are up to 300 skippers working in the Whitsunday tourism industry and that demand is set to increase as we come out of this pandemic. These are the skills that we need to focus on, these are the areas that we have built a very solid base for right across Australia, including regional Australia, and these are areas that the national skills commissioner will be looking at. The commissioner will be ensuring that right across Australia, including regional Australia, it is noted where the skill gaps are, where we need to focus new expenditure, where we need to get students and apprentices to so that they, the workers of the future, have the best opportunity to make the most out of the Australian economy, which, no doubt, is going to power ahead as we come out of this pandemic.

Source Parliament of Australia Website 2020